12 BIBLE STUDY METHODS
Below is information provided that will present 12 proven Bible study methods that will enable you to
study the Bible on your own. They are given in the order of simplicity and use of reference tools,
beginning with the easiest and moving on to the harder ones.
1. The Devotional Method. Select a short portion of your Bible and prayerfully meditate on it till the
Holy Spirit shows you a way to apply the truth to your life. Write out a personal application.
2. The Chapter Summary Method. Read a chapter of a Bible book through at least five times; then
write down a summary of the central thoughts you find in it.
3. The Character Quality Method. Choose a character quality you would like to work on in your life and
study what the Bible says about it.
4. The Thematic Method. Select a Bible theme to study. Then think of three to five questions you'd like
to have answered about that theme. Next study all the references you can find on your theme and
record the answers to your questions.
5. The Biographical Method. Select a Bible character and research all the verses about that person in
order to study his life and characteristics. Make notes on his attitudes, strengths, and weaknesses.
Then apply what you have learned to your own life.
6. The Topical Method. Collect and compare all the verses you can find on a particular topic. Organize
your conclusions into an outline that you can share with another person.
7. The Word Study Method. Study the important words of the Bible. Find out how many times a word
occurs in Scripture and how it is used. Find out the original meaning of the word.
8. The Book Background Method. Study how history, geography, culture, science, and politics affected
what happened in Bible times. Use Bible reference books to increase your understanding of the Word.
9. The Book Survey Method. Survey an entire book of the Bible by reading it through several times to
get a general overview of its contents. Study the background of the book and make notes on its
10. The Chapter Analysis Method. Master the contents of a chapter of a book of the Bible by taking an
in-depth look at each verse in that chapter. Tear each verse apart word by word, observing every
11. The Book Synthesis Method. Summarize the contents and main themes of a book of the Bible
after you have read it through several times. Make an outline of the book. This method is done after
you have used a Book Survey Method and the Chapter Analysis Method on every chapter of that
12. The Verse-by- Verse Analysis Method. Select one passage of Scripture and examine it in detail by
asking questions, finding cross-references, and paraphrasing each verse. Record a possible
application of each verse you study.
The Devotional Method of Bible Study
How to Apply Scripture to Life
As we have already seen in the introduction, the ultimate goal of all Bible study is application, not
interpretation. Since God wants to change our lives through His Word, it is important to learn how to
apply Scripture to our lives before learning any other methods of Bible study. In fact, the techniques
you will learn in this chapter will be used in each of the following study methods. Regardless of the
method you choose to use, at the end of each study you will need to make practical steps of
application concerning the things the Lord shows you. (In this book, every time we talk about
application, refer back to this method for an explanation.)
When you use these techniques by themselves (and not with another method), it is called "The
Devotional Method of Bible Study." This is the type of simple study that you can use in your quiet time.
The Devotional Method of Bible Study involves taking a passage of the Bible, large or small, and
prayerfully meditating on it until the Holy Spirit shows you a way to apply its truth to your own life in a
way that is personal, practical, possible, and measurable. The goal is for you to take seriously the
Word of God and "do what it says" (James 1:22).
Why Application Is Important
The Bible was given to us to show us how we can have a relationship with Almighty God and how we
are to live our lives His way in this world. It was given to change our lives to become more like that of
Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul declared that it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training
the believer in righteous living (2 Tim. 3:16).
The Bible is a practical book, for it is concerned with practical godly living. Bible study without personal
application can be just an academic exercise with no spiritual value. The Bible was written to be
applied to our lives. In his succinct way Howard Hendricks has said, "Interpretation without application
is abortion!" We want to note here that application is necessary for our Christian lives, that it is hard
work, and that good applications are possible if we follow some basic principles.
Application Is Necessary for Our Lives
Study of the Word of God should lead to its application in our lives, with the result that the Scriptures
change us to conform more with the will of God.
1. You can't really get to know the Word of God unless you apply it to your life. During His ministry,
Jesus had a number of encounters with the religious leaders of His time. These were primarily the
Pharisees, the acknowledged scholars of the day; the scribes, legal and religious experts in Jewish
Law; and the Sadducees, the liberalizing element in Jewish society in Jesus' time. On one occasion
the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, asked Jesus a trick question.
His answer is indeed interesting. He said to them, "You are in error because you do not know the
Scriptures or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). The Sadducees had an intellectual knowledge of the
facts of the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament), but they did not apply these principles in a
You can be a walking Bible encyclopedia, with your head crammed full of biblical knowledge, but it
won't do you any good if you don't apply it practically in daily living. If you study the Word of God
without applying it to your life, you are no better off than the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' day.
You really don't know the Scriptures until you put them into practice.
2. Studying the Word of God can be dangerous if you merely study it without applying it. Bible study
without application can be dangerous because knowledge puffs up. The Apostle Paul stated,
"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (I Cor. 8:1). The Greek word translated "puffs up" has the
idea in it of being inflated with pride that in turn leads to arrogance. The Bible tells us that the devil
knows the Word intellectually (see his temptation of Jesus—Matt. 4:1-11), and we also know that he is
puffed up with pride and is arrogant. When you correctly apply the Word of God to your life, you
eliminate the danger of being puffed up with pride.
Bible study without application can be dangerous because knowledge requires action. What a man
knows should find expression in what he does. James declared, "Do not merely listen to the Word,
and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22). God's commands are not optional. He
doesn't say, "Please won't you consider doing this?" He commands, "Do it!" And He expects us to
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compared an obedient disciple to a wise man: "Therefore
everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice [action] is like a wise man who
built his house on the rock" (Matt. 7:24). When the trials of life came along, the wise man's life stood
firm, while the foolish man's-the one who did not practice what he knew-came crashing down (Matt.
7:25-27). David was known as a man after God's own heart because he applied the Word to his life
and practiced what he knew. The psalmist wrote: "I have considered my ways and have turned my
steps to Your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey Your commands" (Ps. 119:59-60). You too
need to put what you know into action.
Bible study without application can be dangerous because knowledge increases responsibility. If you
get serious about studying the Bible, you will be held more accountable than the average person
because with added knowledge comes added responsibility. James wrote, "Anyone, then, who knows
the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:17). With a deeper knowledge of the
Scriptures comes a stronger judgment if you fail to apply them. When you start studying the Bible, God
begins showing you areas of your life that need changing and calls you to greater responsibility. If you
are not planning on applying the lessons you receive from your Bible study, it would be better for you
to not study the Bible at all! You will just be heaping more judgment on yourself!
John Milton, a great Christian poet, is reputed to have said, "The end of all learning is to know God,
and out of that knowledge to love Him and be like Him." That sums up what we are talking about in
applying our study of Scripture-we are to know God, to love Him, and then to be like Him.
Application Is Hard Work
Why is it so hard to apply Scripture to our lives? It would seem that applying the Bible would be fairly
simple, but actually it is the hardest part of Bible study. Application doesn't happen by accident. We
have to plan for it or it will never come about. Three of the reasons that make applying Scripture to our
lives so difficult are: it requires thinking, the devil fights it viciously, and we naturally resist change.
1. Application is hard work because it requires serious thinking. Sometimes it takes a long period of
meditation (concentrated, prayerful thinking) before we see a way to apply a truth of Scripture we have
studied. Sometimes it may mean looking beneath a temporary rule to see a timeless principle in the
text. Sometimes it means looking beyond a local custom to see a universal insight. All this takes time
and concentration which we may be hesitant and reluctant to give.
2. Application is hard work because Satan fights it viciously. The devil's strongest attacks often come
in your quiet time when you are trying to apply what you have studied. Satan knows that as long as
you are content with merely having head knowledge of the Word, you are not much of a threat to his
plans. But as soon as you get serious about making some changes in your life, he will fight you tooth
and nail. He hates doers of the Word. He will let you study the Bible all you desire as long as you don't
ask yourself, "Now what am I going to do with all that I've learned?"
3. Application is hard work because we naturally resist change.
Often we don't "feel" like changing, which is what true application requires. We live by our emotions
rather than by our wills, for we are content to stay the way we are. We hear Christians saying they
don't feel like studying the Bible, they don't feel like praying, and they don't feel like witnessing. Feeling
has nothing to do with living the Christian life, for feelings come and go. The key to spiritual maturity is
to live for Jesus Christ not because we feel good, but because we know it is the right thing to do. I
have discovered that if the only time I study the Bible, pray, or witness is when I feel like it-the devil
makes sure I never feel like it!
You apply the Word of God to your life not because you may feel like it that day or week, but because
you know God expects it of you. Applied Bible study as an act of the will leads to maturity and is a
basis for stability in your Christian life.
Four Steps to Practical Application
When you do a devotional Bible study, follow four simple steps. These steps can be summarized in the
words pray, meditate, apply, and memorize.
Step One — Pray for Insight on How to Apply the Passage
Step Two — Meditate on the Verse(s) You've Chosen to Study
Step Three — Write Out an Application
Step Four — Memorize a Key Verse from Your Study
Step One — Pray for Insight on How to Apply the Passage
Ask God to help you apply the Scripture you are studying and show you specifically what He wants
you to do. You already know that God wants you to do two things: obey His Word and share it with
others. In your prayer tell God that you are ready to obey what He will show you and that you are
willing to share that application with others.
Step Two — Meditate on the Verse(s) You've Chosen to Study
Meditation is the key to discovering how to apply Scripture to your life. Meditation is essentially
thought digestion. You take a thought God gives you, put it in your mind, and think on it over and over
again. Meditation may be compared to rumination; that's what a cow does when it chews its cud. It
eats some grass and sends it to its first stomach; then it lies down, brings the grass up, chews on it,
and swallows it again. This process of digestion is repeated three times. Scriptural meditation is
reading a passage in the Bible, then concentrating on it in different ways. Here are several practical
ways you can meditate on a passage of Scripture:
Visualize the scene of the narrative in your mind. Put yourself into the biblical situation and try to
picture yourself as an active participant. Whether you are reading the historical books of the Old
Testament, the Gospels, or the Book of Acts, imagine yourself in that historical context. Ask yourself
how you would feel if you were involved in that situation. What would you say? What would you do?
If you are studying John 4, for example, visualize yourself as being right there with Jesus, the woman
at the well, the disciples, and the inhabitants of Sychar. How would you feel if you were the one whom
Jesus asked for a drink of water at the well near Sychar? What would your emotions be if you were
one of the disciples who witnessed this incident?
Another example of visualization in meditation is to imagine yourself as the Apostle Paul in prison
writing the letter we know as 2 Timothy. Picture yourself in that Roman jail, condemned to death, and
awaiting execution, and alone except for Luke. Feel the loneliness Paul must have felt, but also feel
the triumph he must have felt as he wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I
have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). When you start visualizing a scene, Scripture comes tremendously
alive to you.
Emphasize words in the passage under study. Read through a verse aloud several times, each time
emphasizing a different word, and watch new meanings develop. For instance, if you are meditating
on Philippians 4:13, you would emphasize the words as follows:
"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."
"I CAN do everything through Him who gives me strength."
"I can DO everything through Him who gives me strength."
"I can do EVERYTHING through Him who gives me strength."
"I can do everything THROUGH Him who gives me strength."
"I can do everything through HIM who gives me strength."
"I can do everything through Him WHO gives me strength."
"I can do everything through Him who GIVES me strength."
"I can do everything through Him who gives ME strength."
"I can do everything through Him who gives me STRENGTH."
You will get 10 different meanings from this verse as you go through and emphasize a different word
Paraphrase the passage under study. Take the verse or passage you are studying and rephrase it in
your own words. As you think on it, use contemporary words and phrases to express timeless biblical
truths. The Living Bible and J.B. Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English are two examples of
paraphrases of Scripture.
Personalize the passage you are studying. This can be done by
putting your name in place of the pronouns or nouns used by Scripture. For example, John 3:16 would
read: "For God so loved Rick Warren that He gave His one and only Son that if Rick believes in Him
he shall not perish but have eternal life."
Use the S-P-A-C-E P-E-T-S acrostic. The S-P-A-C-E P-E-T-S acrostic is a useful aid to meditation.
Each letter represents a question that can help you apply the passage to your life. If you memorize the
nine questions which this acrostic represents, you will have them available every time you want to
meditate on a passage. This acrostic asks: Is there any ...
Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?
Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a
Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy or a negative one to avoid?
Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to, or beware of?
Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy
Spirit, or other biblical teachings?
Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?
Pray the verse or passage back to God. Put the passage under study into the first person singular,
turn it into a prayer, and pray it back to God. The Book of Psalms is a good example of this method of
meditation. Bill Gothard has said that David memorized the Law of God, then personalized it and gave
it back to God in the Psalms.
An example of this method of meditation may be seen in the use of the first three verses of Psalm 23:
Thank You, Lord, for being my Shepherd, and that I lack nothing.
Thank You for making me lie down in green pastures,
for leading me beside the quiet waters,
for restoring my soul.
Thank You for guiding me in the paths of righteousness
for Your name's sake.
Which one of these methods should you use in your meditation? The one which best fits what you are
studying, or a combination of them. If you are studying the Book of Proverbs, for example, it may be
difficult to visualize a scene in your mind, but you can emphasize the words and pray some of the
teachings back to God.
Step Three — Write Out an Application
Write an application of the insights you've discovered through your meditation. Writing your application
out on paper helps you be specific. If you don't write something down, you will soon forget it. This is
particularly necessary when you are dealing with spiritual truths. If you can't put it down on paper, you
haven't really thought it through. It's been proven that if you write something down, you'll remember it
longer and be able to express to others what you have learned.
You need to remember four factors in writing out a good application:
1. Your application should be personal—you should write it in the first person singular. When you write
out an application, use the personal pronouns "I," "me," "my," and "mine" throughout.
2. Your application should be practical—it ought to be something you can do. Plan a definite course of
action which you intend to take. Design a personal project which will encourage you to be a "doer of
the Word." Make your applications as specific as possible. Broad generalities can make you feel
helpless and produce little action.
3. Your application should be possible—it should be something you know you can accomplish;
otherwise you will get discouraged.
4. Your application should be provable-you must set up some sort of follow-up to check up on your
success in doing it. It has to be measurable so you will know that you have done it. This means you
will have to set some kind of time limit on your application.
The following example of these four factors is taken from Ecclesiastes 6:7. The passage reads: "All
man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied." The four factors in the written
application would look as follows:
Personal: "I need to ..."
Practical: "I need to lose some weight."
Possible: "I need to lose 10 pounds."
Provable: "I need to lose 10 pounds before the end of the month."
To help you carry out that kind of application, tell a friend or someone in the family about it who will
occasionally check up on your progress in an encouraging way.
Record applications for future use as well as present needs. What if you find an application that does
not apply to you at that particular time? You are studying a passage that has to do with death and how
you can overcome grief and sorrow, but this is not your problem now. What do you do with these
verses? Write them down anyway, for two reasons. First, the application might be needed in the future
when another situation comes into your life. Second, it might help you minister to someone else who is
in that situation. Ask yourself, "How can I use this verse to help someone else."
Step Four — Memorize a Key Verse from Your Study
So that you can continue to meditate on the passage you are applying, and to help remind you of your
project, memorize a verse that is a key to the application you have written.
Sometimes God will work on one area of your life for several weeks or even months. It takes time to
change ingrained character traits, habits, and attitudes. New habits and ways of thinking are not set in
one day. We must be aware of this and be willing to let God continue to reinforce a new truth in our
lives. We should not fool ourselves by thinking that writing out one application will be a magic formula
which will produce instant change. Rather, it must be thought of as part of the process of growth. The
memorized verse will help in that process because it will ever be with us-"in the heart."
On one occasion my application has to work on the quality of sensitivity. It took several months for
God to build that quality into my life. I needed to see how this quality related to all areas of my life. He
kept putting me into situations where I was tempted to do the opposite-be insensitive. He may do the
same with you. God may teach you to love others by putting you in the midst of unlovely people. You
may have to learn patience while experiencing irritations, and learn peace in the midst of chaos. You
are then discovering how to have joy even in times of sorrow and testing. You must realize that when
God wants to build a positive quality in your life, He must allow you to encounter situations where you
can choose to do the right thing instead of following your natural inclinations.
Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God's Word by Rick Warren, pages 30-40
Used with Permission.